The Inadmissible- Jacques Derrida on the Fear of Writing

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The French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) was no stranger to controversy. To use the street parlance of our times, he got up in more than a few grills in his day. Sacred cow after established truth after conventional wisdom went down under his nimble, playful pen and razor sharp mind. I'll never forget the rather disgraceful outpouring of vitriol that accompanied his death; so many clamored to take a shot at ole Jacques, with more than a few people making him out to be the great de(con)structive bogeyman of our time. I think this long standing caricariture of Derrida is deeply wrong; over time, getting over my own simplistic and uninformed views of the man, I've come to know a truly original and courageous thinker who's advanced and expanded the human mind. A deep thorn in the hegemonic modern mindset, Derrida was a highly creative and fertile thinker that rubbed against the (modern) world around him with a consistent evolutionary friction.

But how did Derrida himself feel about all this trouble, all this controversy, all this philosophical tension he was involved in? In this video below, Derrida relays his experience of being racked by fear (while sleeping) after writing a piece where he was challenging other thinkers or established cultural truths etc.. A friend sent me this video the other day because I'd recently begun to experience something similar. Particularly when I was writing my journals from the recent ISE, I started to experience this gripping anxiety and terror at night, sometimes tossing and turning for hours. When I wrote fellow Beams writer Bergen to tell him about this experience, he replied- "This is some of your best writing. You should use [the fear] as a meter and only write what makes your puny ego squirm!  Then you'd know it's true". Doh!! I'm pretty sure that's not what I wanted to hear, but that sounds pretty wise. Perhaps this is just an unavoidable part of the journey of growth and evolution, part of what happens when "advancing into new territory", as Derrida puts it. Perhaps there'll always be fear tremors deep inside when we admit the inadmissible.


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  • Comment Link Paul Duke Thursday, 20 January 2011 00:26 posted by Paul Duke

    Ole Jack was a Rock Star Trev! And the wisdom of your friend's words about only writing what makes you feel afraid is sagely.
    I myself had to submit a piece today, and it terrified me to do so. After labouring for the past 100 hours over it-I felt it wasn't ready to be seen, never mind workshopped. Nonetheless, I sent it in. My readers told me not to worry-they understand it is a first draft and will yet evolve.
    Man, was I terrified.
    You are not alone in these feelings Trevor.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Thursday, 20 January 2011 01:40 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Thanks Paul, good to hear about your experience too, makes me think that this is more of an impersonal experience, by which I mean universal and not unique to any one particular individual. I guess it's just good to realize it'll probably always be there, and as you said, to take it as a sign of a path (however difficult) rightly chosen.

  • Comment Link Chela Saturday, 22 January 2011 06:59 posted by Chela

    Oh how does that saying go that we all like to toss around...if you're not uncomfortable, you're not evolving?
    I think Bergen was right on and watching that piece made my skin prickle.
    I generally feel like barfing every time I am engaging in something that feels risky, unknown but deeply important.
    I hope you keep leaning into this Trevor, I love your work.

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